DesiCrit in New Testament Interpretation: Paul’s Ambiguous Identity in Acts – Haley Gabrielle
This article explores how biblical criticism is enriched through the analytical tool of DesiCrit, a dimension of critical race theory proposed by Vinay Harpalani. DesiCrit emphasizes the racial ambiguity of South Asian Americans and the malleability of their ascribed and asserted racial identities in different historical and social contexts, also called “microclimes.” Leveraging DesiCrit, I analyse how the book of Acts represents the ambiguity of Paul’s religious, national, and geographic identities in three distinct microclimes. In Damascus (Acts 9), the divine voice to Ananias selectively emphasizes Paul’s shared background in a large Greek diaspora city. On Paphos (Acts 13), two sets of double names communicate positive and negative forms of belonging: the name “Paul” reflects greater capital before Roman audiences, and the translation from “Bar-Jesus” to “Elymas” serves to distance a persecutory form of Judaism from the Judaism of the Way. Finally, in Jerusalem (Acts 21), a precarious social context leads to Paul’s ambiguity being construed negatively as a danger to the Roman military. Paul, however, is able to establish an alternative and less threatening identity. As Paul asserts and is ascribed varying social classifications, his ambiguity both increases and constrains his ability to control his self-representation.
Acts, Paul, ambiguity, critical race theory, South Asian Americans